"I think attitudes about strong women were quite oppressive in a lot of ways when it came to women having an equal standing," the actress and businesswoman tells PEOPLE


Before Jessica Alba established herself as a successful actress and businesswoman, she encountered sexism while paving her path in the entertainment industry.

In one of this week's cover stories, Alba opens up to PEOPLE about how she felt pressure trying to prove that she is more than just her looks.

"I always wanted to be treated the way that I saw men being treated. Men were told, 'Oh, you're really smart' if you have ideas about the character or the story, where for the women it was like, 'What? You have an opinion?'" says the 40-year-old Honest Company founder. "It was like you came off as aggressive, where a man just looked really assertive and powerful."

For more on PEOPLE's cover story interview with Jessica Alba and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Alba adds: "I think attitudes about strong women were quite oppressive in a lot of ways when it came to women having an equal standing."

jessica alba
Jessica Alba
| Credit: Mike Rosenthal

Throughout the course of her acting career, Alba has starred in countless roles, including the Fantastic Four franchise, Machete, Sin City: A Dame to Kill for and L.A.'s Finest.

But even before she became a household name, performing was always in her blood.

"I come from a family of performers so for me to do it wasn't so far-fetched," she says. "It wasn't until James Cameron chose me when I was 17 to star in a TV show [Dark Angel] that I was like, 'Okay, I think I can do this as a career.' Because I did pray a lot — 'Show me a sign!'"

"By the time I was 18, if I didn't get one of those signs, I was going to go to college and figure out something else," she adds.

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: Jessica Alba on PeopleTV.com or on the PeopleTV app.

jessica alba
Credit: Mike Rosenthal

Along with an extensive on-camera résumé, Alba has also carved out her own path in the business world. Her Honest Company, which she launched in 2012, went public in May with an IPO valuing her company at $1.44 billion.

Asked when she has felt most empowered, Alba says it's when she's "allowed" herself to feel that way.

"For a long time, I felt like I didn't deserve it," she says. "Trying to reach a goal is one thing, but giving myself the space to be successful and acknowledge that, or even giving myself the space to feel intelligent, was hard."

For more from Jessica Alba, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

jessica alba
Credit: Mike Rosenthal

As her business continues to expand, Alba hopes to be remembered as both "fearless and hardworking."

"I hope people know that my heart's in the right place," she continues. "I feel so fortunate that I've had these incredible people come into my life and stick around even though I can be kind of annoying and relentless. But, I don't know, we get to create pretty cool memories together."